A half dozen fire trucks sitting outside the Glen Cove Volunteer Fire Department may seem like a bad sign on most days, perhaps one of an imminent emergency. But the trucks were pulled out of the garage last Sunday for a much more optimistic reason: because the department needed the space for its Volunteer Recruitment Day.
Department representatives manned tables with volunteer firefighter sign-up sheets, and answered potential recruits’ questions.
Several department members said that recruitment days are crucial to its success, because all of the firefighters are volunteers. The only paid employees are the dispatchers.
Asked what volunteer firefighters mean to Glen Cove, Chief Robert Marino, who oversaw the event, emphatically answered, “A great deal.” Marino explained that the firefighters must be ready to respond to a call at any time. Whether they’re sitting down to dinner or awakened at 3 a.m. in the dead of winter, they must always be ready to save lives, he said.
“In this day and age, to volunteer for something like this and do the training, it requires a great deal,” Marino added. “We appreciate every member that comes through these doors to try to help us out.”
By the end of the recruitment drive, the department had signed up 10 new volunteers, bringing the total to just over 100. Roughly 60 of them are Class A firefighters, capable of running into burning buildings to save lives. The remainder are Class B or C, and handle responsibilities such as operating trucks and hoses. Every volunteer is trained at the Nassau County Fire Services Academy in Bethpage, where they are taught by experienced firefighters from the New York City Fire Department.
In addition, 10 teens between ages 14 and 18 signed up to become Explorers. They will go through the training and take part in firefighting drills on the first Sunday of every month. Dave Spy, the head adviser of the department’s Explorer Post, said that the teens can be crucial to the success of the department.
“From 2002, when we first started, we probably have 20 members from the Explorer Post that ended up joining the Fire Separtment,” said Spy, a member of the department for 36 years and a former chief. “So we know the Explorer Post is really working, and it’s great for the future of the Fire Department.”
New Explorers Mikael and Gabe Barajas, 17 and 15, and Edson Murillo, 17, heard about the program from department representatives at Glen Cove High School. Mikael said that he joined to make connections with people, and to prepare for the satisfying and crucial job of a firefighter. “If you do join the actual [department],” he said, “you get the satisfaction of saving people and helping them in their everyday lives.” He added that he planned to becoming a regular firefighter when he turned 18.
GCHS student Zachary Gotterbarn, 14, has been with the Explorer Post since May of 2018. He said that he has been interested in being a firefighter since he was seven- or eight-years-old, downloading a scanner app that would tell him when the Glen Cove Fire Department went out on a call. “I was just always into it,” he said.
Toward the end of the recruitment day, Zachary assisted Spy in introducing the new Explorer recruits to some of the training they would receive. Zachary plans on becoming a firefighter when he comes of age.
Along with Mayor Tim Tenke and several members of the Glen Cove City Council, Senator Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, came out to show his support for the department’s recruits. Gaughran said volunteer firefighters are integral parts of their communities and that they are among the bravest people on Long Island.
“These are people who actually put their lives at risk,” he said. “Any day, there could be a call and they could be in a building, trying to save someone and they [might] not come home.”
Gaughran also mentioned that volunteer firefighters play a large role in the taxes of their neighbors. According to the senator, Long Island residents would potentially pay at least 25 percent more in property taxes if they had to finance a department full of paid firefighters instead of volunteers.
Volunteer firefighters in New York are currently able to receive exemptions on their state income taxes, Gaughran said. If they volunteer in the municipality in which they are residents, they can also receive smaller tax exemptions from that municipality. Earlier this year, Gaughran sponsored a bill which would enable volunteer firefighters to receive tax exemptions from their municipality even if they volunteer in another area. The bill was passed by the Senate on Feb. 26 and is currently making its way through the State Assembly.